'A dangerous unknown': Unexpected evictions threaten the well-being of Toronto tenants

Flynn Daunt, far left, alongside neighbours. (Photo provided by Cole Webber of Parkdale Legal Clinic)

It was during both a heatwave and a global pandemic that Shawne Jackson was served an eviction notice.

Jackson has been living in a two-bedroom, 1,200 square foot apartment in Toronto for eight years, but after nearly a decade of tenancy, her landlord served her an eviction notice this summer.

“I'm 73 years old … I'm paranoid of COVID-19. I'm in the middle of a heatwave. Now, I’m going to be looking for places to live by September 30th,” Jackson told CTV News Toronto.

Flynn Daunt, a Toronto tenant who faced the same fate at his Keele Street home where he has lived for more than a decade, said that serving unexpected evictions during a pandemic feels like “a violent act.”

“We're being forced to go out into a dangerous unknown,” Flynn told CTV News Toronto.

Flynn described experiencing “plenty of sleepless nights, staying up all night worrying” after being served a notice.

While Jackson was offered a different unit owned by the same landlord, she had to turn it down. Jackson is terrified of heights and the suggested apartment was on the sixth floor. The unit is also 300 square feet smaller than her current one.

“I absolutely could never live on the sixth floor. I'm petrified of heights,” Jackson said.

“I don't believe 900 square feet would even fit my furniture. I'm not averse to moving, but wherever I move to has to meet my needs.”

Both Jackson and Daunt circumstances fall under a rising trend colloquially dubbed 'renovictions,' also known in landlord-tenant hearings as an N11 notice.

A slang term, ‘renoviction’ is when a landlord evicts a tenant by claiming they will or need to complete major renovations, according to local tenant’s rights group RenovictionsTO. Many tenants also receive N12 eviction notices when they are served, which is eviction by way of lease termination for the owner’s own purposes.

Parkdale Legal Aid clinic worker Cole Webber says he’s seen an increase of N12s and N13s served over the last year.

“Renovations are used by investors as a pretext to remove sitting tenants, allowing them to raise rents and increase the overall value of their property assets,” Webber told CTV News Toronto.

When reached for comment, the City of Toronto said they are aware of the rising trend of renovictions.

“Specifically, we have heard about the increased uses of N12, “Landlord’s or Purchaser’s own use,” and N13, “Demolition or conversion,” being used in bad faith by landlords serving the notices to long-term tenants in order to move new tenants in at a higher rental rate,” Abi Bond, executive director of the Housing Secretariat at the city, told CTV News Toronto.

Despite landlord-tenant relationships normally falling under provincial jurisdiction, the city says it is working across divisions to find ways to address the loss of affordable housing.

“The City, with the support of the Tenant Advisory Committee, has also created a comprehensive Rental Housing & Tenant Information section on its website with information on understanding and fighting evictions, housing standards, rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants and resources for finding housing, legal help as well as help paying for housing,” Bond said.

CTV News Toronto has reached out to the Tribunals Ontario Landlord-Tenant Board for the specific number of renovictions and own use eviction notices served in the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, RenovictionsTO, has created an interactive map, allowing tenants to self-report when they are experiencing a renoviction or eviction for the owner’s use.

The organization also provides resources to ensure tenants know their legal rights.

If tenants are looking to fight back against an eviction notice served, Webber said that they need to get to know their neighbours.

“Organizing is the number one way for tenants to defend their homes and stop evictions,” he said.

Toronto tenant Holly Jo went through a similar experience after living in her Kensington Market home for 13 years.

Jo was served an eviction notice in 2020. Faced with heading to the online tribunals held by the Ontario Landlord Tenant Board (LTB), Jo was forwarded the contact information of a Toronto lawyer offering to do pro bono work for those served eviction notices during the pandemic.

“I got him like five days before my hearing and we worked our butts off from morning until sometimes 1 or 2 a.m. trying to get a case together,” Jo told CTV News Toronto.

Eventually, Jo’s landlord’s case was discarded — when being served an N12, tenants are required to receive an offer for compensation. Jo was never offered compensation when she was served her notice.

However, the next day, Jo says her landlords were already working to file a new eviction order with the LTB. Ultimately, the stress was too much for her to handle.

“I just couldn't fight the fight anymore. It had been over a year and it had taken its toll,” Jo said.

“It was due to the fact that I'd been living there 13 years and I was feeling really disposable and afraid  because I don't have family.”

Jo wants to let other tenants know “that they can reach out to their own communities, their own tenant networks” for support.

“I was pretty isolated before I found my community and network. Had I not found them, I would have been completely isolated and it scared me.”

Webber has the same advice to those fighting to remain in their homes.

“Tenants should not rely on the legal process to keep them in their homes,” Webber said.

“Instead, they should organize with their neighbours and look for ways to raise the social, financial and political costs to the landlord for carrying out evictions.”